Does it hold water? No. It never has.
It can hold red potions and fairies though.
Please, shoot me now, I waited twenty-six years to make that joke and I can die peacefully.
So you have your shiny, new plastic smelling, SNES Classic. Wonderful, great for you! Maybe you are dusting off your old SNES, GBA, Wii, 3DS, and what seems like a billion different other platforms and you’re now raring to give it the ol’ 1-2 shot again. Nostalgia glasses are a fickle thing though, and thick as they can be, some games lost their glitter over the years and are best left to your childhood imagination. Take a look at Final Fantasy 7, for example. Loved it then? Great. Played it recently? Oh mercy, I hope not, there’s a reason why rabid fans have been holding their Advent Children DVDs hostage for the episodic re-release.
We’re talking about one of the most widely regarded video games in modern history, though. Say one foul word to the wrong person and you’ll end up dead in an internet alley. Heck, many won’t even need this article considering that they have etched into their soul that the legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is perfection in 16-bit form. Is it though? Does the SNES mega-hit stay true to form to this very day? I played it once more for my yearly run, and I give you my honest thoughts below.
(Spoiler: It is. Huh.)
So let’s start off with the story. The Legend of Zelda series didn’t have much of deep lore at the time despite having four titles under the belt and including a cult hit tv show everyone snickers at. We see some moderately decent chunks in Ocarina of Time later on, but beyond a few character interactions in Kakariko village, Link to the Past just doesn’t hold up. More spoilers, your uncle decides to go all gung-ho for all of three minutes before bleeding out, teaching you the “sacred art of the family aka how to spin in a circle”, you rescue Zelda, earn about six sentences as to why you want the Master Sword, and you’re on your way. You beat big baddie Agahnim who somehow is controlling/killed/forcing/disappeared the king that we only see the idle intro of the game, and now you get another six sentences as to why you should tackle over a half dozen dungeons. Peppered with shanty singing by the rescued maidens about knights and sages of old and why Ganon is a naughty thief, and there goes the entire plot of Link to the Past.
Am I being fair to the story design? Not at all, considering Super Mario World received a signpost for the first level and Donkey Kong Country earned a tragic start of similar design. Should I be fair? Probably not, considering I’m a prejudiced Zelda fan who has this very game’s Link inked onto my arm. It’s a necessity to understand, though, that this game is severely lacking in a structured storyline that requires a more direct interaction with main characters beyond telepathic blocks on the wall, giving you pro tips on how to solve kindergarten puzzles.
You can step to the side and respect that they do dice in a chat here and there if you go out of the way to talk with the common folk of the game, but the fact of the matter is, I don’t know why these knights are even attacking me. Are they being controlled? Are they demons in knight’s armor? There’s no preset beyond the off chance encounter mentioning that there’s some bounty on Link’s head and apparently no one wised up to the ominous wizard whisking away virgins into the Dark World. Ah well, it’s a Nintendo thing, which is the trademark saying of a fanboy, isn't it?
The music. Oh man, that music. The sweet, succulent tones of the original theme taken up a notch thanks to the Super Nintendo’s sound chip gives a wallop for the age of the console. I can happily admit that I could hum or crudely sing almost every song you hear in this game without fail. Fanaticism aside, the scores for this game are, without a doubt, a huge upgrade to its predecessor and by itself a phenomenal soundtrack. Couple it with the fact that Koji Kondo, one of Nintendo’s ol’ top dogs of music composers, was in charge of the task, and you have yourself one hell of a song collection. There’s a couple duds I’m not too fond of, such as the treasure mini-game theme, but they're quickly drowned out by the Overworld theme and Dark Woods overture.
The combat is as good as you remembered it, don’t worry. A bit clunky at times in terms of hitboxes and wall collision (I’m looking at you, invincible keese that nearly killed me), but the different methods of taking down the local guardsmen is still hilarious. Swordplay away? Check. Want to charge them with the pegasus boots? Got it. Boomerang to the face? It’s stunning. What I would have called old tricks on any other game is fresh breathing for this title. Having over a dozen different ways get those hot rupees leave a simplified, but satisfying feeling when you’re burning through the game.
Who needs the sword of Evil’s Bane to take on a monster wizard when you can use a freaking bug net?
Importantly so, the puzzles are the crux of every Zelda design; you’d no sooner find water without hitting a riddle to try at (unless you’re playing Wind Waker, but that’s for good reason). In A Link to the Past, the game takes the mysteries to another level, plotting quality enigmas behind the different tools, or simple tests of will, luck, or logic; heck, maybe even across worlds.
Compared to the Zelda games before it, The Legend of Zelda and The Legend of Zelda II, the multi-layer mechanic allowed developers to make a grandiose variety of puzzles, where doing obscure things to slightly suspicious objects often end in some sort of reward. What was once bombing the right part of a wall is now doing a digging contest, or hammering down the two dozen stakes that are just sitting there without any indication, or dumping the water from an underground river dam. Even compared to other SNES titles it holds up favorably well, offering dozens of puzzles for both heart pieces, and other sweet goodies like the ice rod or the medallions.
If this means anything in term of my poor memory, I want to first say that I enjoy A Link to the Past over Ocarina of Time. However, I can name you every boss and describe the method of encounter from the Nintendo 64 title; I can barely tell you a third of them from A Link to the Past, and I just played it. Now mind you, they don’t do the fancy titles or the dramatic introductions, but it’s really the designs of some of them that make them forgettable. A group of six Armos Knights? A bunch of eyeballs? An angry jellyfish?
Devil in the details though, because the fights I do clearly remember, and don’t even, get exceptionally difficult and demanding. I spent almost forty minutes, without getting a game over, against the boss in Hera’s Tower, Moldorm. For those who don’t know or remember, Moldorm was a being of chaotic energy and an RNG entity in worm form, where you must strike the tail multiple times while avoiding the wildly flailing head from knocking you below, restarting the match. Sometimes I can do it in two minutes, this time I took forty. It was embarrassing. Another fight you go against, Mothula, the boss of Skull Woods. Have you ever tried to torch a moth while it shoots hypoblasts at you, the floor split into fifty pieces and moving you in turbulent directions towards a wall of spikes? Old Blind from Gargoyle’s Domain, also known as Bullet Hell Blind, thanks to fireballs going in every direction you can think of, made me run for my life.
The hottest question is, did I still enjoy this twenty-six-year-old game? If I said yes right off the get-go, this wouldn’t even be an article; it’d be a joke of a clickbait at worst and a tweet at best.
The truth is, this game is overrated. It really is. For all the legacy and revelations of praise this game has been given over the decades, people have put it on a pedestal far too high, making it disappointing for those who wanted to give it a shot after being told: “this is the best game of all time”. Maybe in 1991, when I was eight months old, this game was glorious to those who never saw such graphics and detail; but now, with games hitting 4K and being retroactively 16bit, the shine is dimmed. It’s not the best game in the world anymore, maybe not even then.
Is it still my favorite game of all time after playing it, twenty-six years old and all?
I don’t care what the “best” game is. The Last of Us, Halo, Destiny 2, they can keep the title. In a couple years some new game will snag the position and they’ll be left in the annals of history. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, however, holds the greatest of endearments and appreciation, for both what it offers for you as the gamer, and for what it gave inspiration to as a game designer. Zelda, in general, has given birth to several forms of gameplay mechanics used by many to this day, and Link to the Past is no exception. Without this SNES title, we wouldn’t see the integrated heart piece system through challenges or exploration, or thematically dynamic dungeon exploring. It’s very likely that other titles may have been the first, but this is the one that made it into a popular meta in the 90s and beyond.
The idea behind a legendary sword meant to face the forces of evil was also popularized here. Again, not the first, but the most prominent. The successors to the idea came soon after. I can even name you some: Crystalis, LandStalker, Alcahest, Crusader of Centy. All names with a centralized sword in mind to take out the big baddy.
So, there you have it, another one of those articles that glorify their review of A Link to the Past. Let it be distinguished, however, that I recognize its flaws and bugs, and that it is certainly not perfect. What it offers beyond that, is perfect enough for me.
Also, I was told specifically not to discuss the gender of the male Gerudo thief king of the desert, Ganondorf, whose Gerudo legend states that a male is born every hundred years and is destined king, so I won’t talk about his gender.
Ganon's totes whatever you want 'em to be for your fanfic, though.